Echolalic (adj.) from echolalia (n.) the repetition of words or phrases uttered by others. Often mechanical or nonsensical. Can be a sign of Autism.
My hands are echolalic. I literally have “loud hands”. Every time I hear or think something, my hands repeat it. Sometimes they repeat it by tapping out the pattern of the words. I move my fingers and tap them as the words come. Sometimes my fingers move to show my thoughts. My hands tap to organize my thoughts. Sometimes they tap my leg, sometimes my hip or my knee. Sometimes my fingers tap my palm or each other. It’s my way of processing language.
When I was young, I constantly repeated things I heard. I used snippets of books that I’d read in conversation, and repeated verbatim what was said to me. I often used “big words” that everyone was shocked that I knew. My mother was always impressed with my vocabulary, but not with the repetition part. I learned to silence myself and use only my lips to repeat the words and process what was said. But even that is not acceptable, so it moved to my hands and my body. It’s how I process language. The tapping, flapping, rocking motion in conversations is how I am able to deal with the verbal input and how I am able to plan what I am going to say in reply.
I know American Sign Language. Not a lot, but enough to get by. While I know numerous actual signs, I am constantly finger-spelling, regardless of “appropriate usage”. I learned the ASL alphabet when I was 6 years old in kindergarten, and I’ve been using it ever since. If you look at me, you’ll see my hands are constantly in motion. Spelling. Spelling words that I’ve heard in the conversation. Spelling words that I’m thinking. Spelling out my response, or just repeating words over and over and over. Sometimes I can control what word or words I’m spelling. Sometimes it’s subconscious. But you can bet that whatever you just said to me, I’ll be spelling out the keywords with my hands, right by my sides, using the repetition and the motion to figure out what to say and why. Sometimes its just one word, over and over. Sometimes it’s a whole sentence. Sometimes its numbers, as I count my steps or breaths or passing seconds.
When I was growing up this motion wasn’t acceptable. My mother hated that I was spelling. She hated the tapping and the repetition. If my hands so much as twitched when she was talking ot me, she would grab them and force them still and by my sides. She didn’t have the vocabulary of “quiet hands” but that sure was the message. Don’t move. Don’t do anything with your body when you’re listening. LOOK ME IN THE EYE SO I KNOW YOU ARE LISTENING. Nod your head, so I know you understand. Do NOT MOVE YOUR HANDS. I learned to hide it. Hands in pockets, stare at the forehead, bite the inside of my cheek or my tongue. Let my brain repeat words consciously, instead of my hands. Miss most of the conversation because I’m forcing my hands still into tiny balls so that hey can’t move. But my best communication comes when can release those controls. Let my body move the way it needs to. And process language with my hands.
And so if you ever want to know what I’m thinking, just take a look at my hands. Down by my side, is a window into my brain, if only you know how to read it. Because my hands are echolalic.
Back in January some awesome people started the Loud Hands Project. I actually had the idea for this post back when that started, but I just haven’t been able to develop it well. I’m not sure this is even quite finished, but I just wanted to put the idea out there.
If you enjoyed this post, please also read “WORDS”, another post about how communication works (or doesn’t work) for me.